- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 9, 2000

Taft made the most of his post-presidential days

You do a real disservice to William Howard Taft in the sidebar ("Upon retirement") to your front-page story on President Clinton's musings as to what he might do after leaving office ("Clinton mulls life after White House, perhaps on same street," Jan. 4).

Not only was Taft a Yale professor for a time, as you noted, but he also was the only former president to go on to become chief justice of the United States (1921-30), thus holding the highest office in two of the three branches of government.

That accomplishment is worth noting and not likely to be replicated in the near term, although I have read that Mr. Clinton has expressed interest in the possibility of a seat on the high court. The Arkansas Bar authorities might have some input on that unlikely scenario, however.

SCOTT L. ROBERTSON

Washington

The Times' foreign section is complimented

I would like to compliment The Washington Times on your presentation of world news. I have lived in numerous cities around the United States, as well as overseas, and I find your method of dedicating one day each week to a different region of the world to be a good (if not the best) means of presenting international affairs. I have only lived here for six months, so I do not know how long you have been doing this, but I send my compliments to whoever initiated the idea.

Additionally, special international advertising sections that have appeared recently on Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Oman are excellent tools. I encourage you to continue publishing these types of special editions. If average Americans read your front page and the regional affairs page (just two pages) on a daily basis, their understanding of domestic and international affairs would improve exponentially.

MAJ. PATRICK J. CARROLL

U.S. Marine Corps

Springfield

School reform proposals long on politics, short on education

In February 1999, the D.C. Control Board responded to the D.C. Board of Education's agreement to settle its lawsuit challenging its demotion to an advisory board and the control board's empowerment of an appointed board of trustees to run the public schools by developing a "transition plan" that would require the elected board to demonstrate its readiness to resume authority over the public schools by June 2000. Members of the elected board who had joined in the lawsuit agreed to the development of the transition plan as the road map back to power. Today, that plan is in limbo.

As one elected board member who took the lead in revising the elected board's code of ethics and procedures, I proposed complete alteration of the internal aspects of the organization and sent drafts of the idea as early as March 1999 to Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the D.C. Council. I asked that they provide comments on my proposal in time for me to include them in a final draft to be submitted to the board for a vote of approval. Neither the mayor nor the council provided any input. In fact, neither the mayor nor the council even acknowledged receipt of the draft. They were not interested in working with the elected school board.

I subsequently sent correspondence to the mayor and council, this time proposing that the board be reduced to an eight-member panel that would not be divided into committees and governed by a rigid code of ethics that provided penalties for breach. Again, I got no response from the mayor or council.

Without consultation with the elected school board, the superintendent of schools or any identifiable group of educators, the mayor and the council recently have come forward with several conflicting proposals of their own to alter school governance.

These proposals seek to reduce the size of the school board and to have an appointed board, a mixture of appointed and elected officials to alter the method of electing ward representatives and the president of the board. The mayor's proposal scraps the elected board altogether and allows him to appoint a board and a superintendent.

The council seems determined to put some form of its conflicting ideas before the public in a May election, while the mayor seeks to implement his plan now for confirmation by the public in a 2004 referendum.

In 1997, The Washington Times published my assessment of whether or not an appointed board would be best for Washington ("Yes, the District does need an elected school board," Letters, Dec. 21). At that time, I had finished a year serving as the elected board's president and the public's only elected member on the control board's appointed panel of trustees.

In addition to experiencing the real shortcomings of the school board and panel of trustees, I had ample opportunity to research the results of appointed and elected boards nationwide and came to the following conclusion: "It is not unprecedented for an appointed board to replace an elected one. The guiding principle in any such transformation of government should be whether the alternative structure serves the educational needs of children better than the original structure… . [The public] should encourage both poorly performing organizations [appointed trustees and elected school board]" to "begin working together for the greater good of the children."

Nowhere is it etched in stone that an appointed board is better than an elected one. And what continues to be missed in the current debate over the issue of school governance is how any or all of the so-called school reform proposals are going to improve what goes on in the classroom for our children.

Instead of being given an examination of the educational viability of the school reform proposals, the public is being told, as for example in a Jan. 5 editorial in The Washington Post ("Momentum for School Reform") that the public should support these proposals because they would stop ambitious school board members from running for D.C. Council positions or that allowing the mayor and council to run the schools is best because they "must provide funding for schools and have oversight responsibility for school expenditures."

Ironically, at this very moment, the parent advocacy group Parents United is complaining to its members and supporters that the mayor and council have disregarded the per-pupil uniform funding formula, thus "shortchanging our children's public schools."

Additionally, the Rev. Willie Wilson's racially divisive appointment by the mayor to the University of the District of Columbia's Board of Trustees further illustrates that there is no panacea in having an appointed panel or in having the mayor or council run the schools.

Honesty has been a missing link in the D.C. school reform movement since 1996, when the control board voided the public vote of November 1996 and unilaterally inserted an appointed board of trustees at the helm of the public schools. Honesty would have allowed the voters in 1996 to measure their willingness to vote for their own representatives vs. the opportunity to have an appointed panel of trustees run the schools. Instead, Congress disregarded the democratic vote.

This year, honesty on the part of the mayor and council would require that they acknowledge that their proposals are not the products of consultation with educators. These proposals do not address educational issues but instead are political concepts that are remote from what needs to be done in the classroom.

The council has several proposals on the table that have nothing to do with school funding, class size, teacher training and pay, custodial support or expansion of standards by which students, teachers and principals can be judged. The District has not had its honest debate in the area of school reform. The proper parties are not even being consulted.

In the larger scheme of things, one can view the current crop of proposals for D.C. school reform as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. How would Mr. Williams improve upon the groundwork laid by the current superintendent of schools? When does the public get to hear that story? In 2004?

DON REEVES

Ward 3 member

D.C. Board of Education

Washington

Most impact on century

Throughout 1999, I have been hearing about who had the most impact on the 20th century and who would be named the person of the century. If it had been up to me, it would have been Gavrilo Princip, the man Benjamin P. Tyree named in his column ("Trigger of history," Commentary, Dec. 31).

Princip's single act of assassinating Archduke Francis Ferdinand set the tone and the policies for the rest of the century. I'm glad I'm not the only one with a sense of history.

DAWN PALKA

Silver Spring

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